Andrew Rossi: Michael Kinsley review cut ‘Page One’ box office figures in half

The History Channel is airing “Page One: Inside the New York Times” at 6 p.m. ET on New Year’s Eve. (It can also be streamed on Netflix.) Filmmaker Andrew Rossi answers a few of my questions about the documentary and Michael Kinsley’s negative review.

What were your expectations for Page One when you started filming? I see that your domestic gross as of 10/16 was $1,067,028. Is that the most current figure?

Yes, that is the most current figure.

When I first started shooting “Page One: Inside The New York Times” I didn’t have a clear sense of whether the film would ultimately scale beyond a small core audience of NYT followers and those interested in journalism to even warrant a theatrical release at all, although of course I hoped it would. So the fact that the film ended up grossing over $1M (which is the holy grail for independent docs, much as $100M is for studio films), was thrilling. That being said, with partners like Participant Media and Magnolia Pictures on board, there were initially comparisons to movies like “Food Inc.” and “Waiting For Superman,” which had spectacular grosses of $4.4M and $6.4M respectively.

My personal assessment is that the excoriating Michael Kinsley review which appeared in the New York Times probably cut our box office in half, at least. The conventional wisdom is that if a small indie doesn’t get a strong review in the Times, it’s an uphill battle at the box office. So to have a Times review which actually instructs its readers to not see the film but to see another one made in the 1940’s instead, well… you do the math.

All in all, ending up with $1M is a real testament to the strong word of mouth for the picture and Magnolia and Participant’s efforts to get the film out there; they did an amazing job. But I think it’s likely that a large swath of Times lovers stayed home because of that astonishing Kinsley review.

How is “Page One” doing in DVD/digital download sales/rentals?

We haven’t gotten an accounting statement yet from activity on Itunes and other on-demand platforms, but the feedback on Twitter from people streaming has been phenomenal.

I asked Rossi about Michael Kinsley’s review, which ran in the Times and said the paper “deserves a better movie.”

Overall the critical response to the film has been very positive; in fact, we were nominated for a “Critic’s Choice” Award for best documentary, among other honors. So to say that Kinsley’s review was an abberation would be an understatement. Many of the people who have commented to me about the review, several of whom work at the Times itself, have described the review as “shameful.” Michael Kinsley may be a Rhodes Scholar, but he’s not a film critic, and the idea that he is objective when it comes to the subject of the New York Times and journalism is preposterous. He would have been a great candidate to write an editorial about the movie, but as a reviewer, not so much.

The truth is that there are several factual errors and misleading statements in Kinsley’s review, even beyond it’s imbalanced attack on the movie as a creative work. The Times chose to run only one of the ten or more corrections that we submitted, which was also upsetting. Specifically, my initial response was shock and finally sadness, not just for all those who put so much work into making the film, but actually for the Times itself. Don’t get me wrong – there’s been credible criticism about the film’s structure, and I appreciate the negative insights as well as the praise. Yes, a multi-pronged narrative with literary digressions pivoting from one subject or protagonist to another is difficult to pull off and not for everyone. But Kinsley’s review is a contrarian rant that doesn’t shed any light. It’s a takedown, which doesn’t live up to the Times’ own standards.

* Earlier: “I turned out to be completely wrong” about the film, says NYTer




Comments

comments

4 comments
  1. Essentially, a director instructs his would-be viewers to accept mob consensus and shun the writer of a review that shatters consensus.

    Rossi has unlimited space available to him to document the alleged factual errors in Kinsley’s review, which was completely accurate in describing the film’s shortcomings.

    You don’t need to be a film critic to critique film.

  2. Kinsley’s review was terrible. The film was not

    The Times should have had an outside film critic review it, not someone who whose only qualification was that he worked in media

    There were errors in the review (at the very least, his editor should have seen the film)

  3. Steve Paul said:

    Sorry, but I don’t disagree with Kinsley’s review, and I thought his description of the movie’s wanderings was very good. I came away from the film wishing it would’ve done a far better job contextualizing the transformation of the media. It would’ve been nice if Rossi had enumerated Kinsley’s supposed factual errors above, but it’s clear that’s not his real point.

  4. I saw the movie here in Cleveland. Yes, I’m a Times junkie. I was one before I became a reporter and I’m one now that I’ve left print journalism. But I went to see the movie because I’ve transitioned into multi-media, and I’m studying documentary storytelling.

    I didn’t agree that the movie was a mess. I thought the narrative was impressionistic. The editing and storytelling captured the hyper-active energy of a newsroom. I got a better sense of the challenges facing newspaper journalists today, especially the demands on their attention.
    I left the movie feeling unsettled – the same emotion my full-time reporter friends have had for years.